Genre: Comedy, Romance
Director: Sydney Pollack
Music: Dave Grusin
Cinematography: Owen Roizman
The synopsis of Sydney Pollack’s drag comedy TOOTSIE can be construed as follows: a struggling thespian/acting coach Michael Dorsey (Huffman) cross-dresses as a woman Dorothy Michaels to secure a role in a popular daytime soapie, and scoops up massive acclamation as a single, middle-aged role model who disseminate fresh air of women being independent and self-confident, which profoundly inspires her fellow actress Julie (Lange), whom Michael has a huge crush on.
If one has yet watched the film, the synopsis might get on someone’s nerves, how on earth a man at the end of his tether can so easily thrive in the same line of business as soon as he acts in the opposite sex? What is more, he even becomes some sort of the guiding light to the dismissive gender while sporting a hard-on under his dress, it could only be a straight guy’s pipe-dream with a penchant for sexism and male chauvinism, the movie could have been a total train wreck under a lesser brain.
Thankfully, TOOTSIE is never the case with Pollack on board and a scintillating script bristles with no-hyperbole but heartfelt dialogue and organic humour and romance, plus an all-star cast spearheaded the ever so androgynous Hoffman. Instead it becomes one of the best and the most successful comedies ever in US. A giant crowd-pleaser and a top-dog in the Oscar-game too (although only Lange won one out of its overall 10 nominations, even that golden statue is a bit iffy in hindsight, since it is more like a consolation prize for her breathtaking turn in a biopic of Frances Farmer FRANCES 1982).
Michael’s double personae is the refraction of his personality from different genders, as a man, he is an impulsive prick towards Sandy (Garr), the altruistic girl in his acting class who believes they click together, but in fact they only have a one-time shagging based on an inopportune occasion, Sandy is given the cold shoulder whenever Julie is available for him. However, as a woman, Dorothy, she not only has to keep an eye on her leery co-star, the old goat John Van Horn (Gaynes), as her attachment with Julie becomes stronger, she accidentally becomes the apple-of-the-eye of Julie’s widower father Les (Durning), who is somehow convinced Dorothy should be Julie’s new mom. You see, as a woman, Dorothy not only being objectified for her sex appeal (truth to be told, Hoffman’s female outlook does look superior to his normal bearing), more reassuringly she is also courted as a true lady for a serious marriage, which creatively justifies the dual standards in the present man’s world (although this film is made 33 years ago), it is a farce for sure, but it is a revealing one. Apart from the accomplishments of the make-up and costume sections, Hoffman’s performance is terrific, the tricky part is his voice changeover since it is so dialog-ridden, Dorothy has an old-maidish front but inside she is quintessentially a feminist cannot tolerate women being bullied, belittled or indulging themselves in self-pity, that’s why she is one-of-a-kind and so riveting to watch on screen. Hoffman’s acting is wholesomely fluid, our laughter is being accordingly induced up until the premeditated big reveal – again the script rounds up a pragmatic scenario for Dorothy to perform the live act – it is a cliché, but indeed a perfectly engineered one.
Lange is also letting out her impactful presence in a less demanding role, Julie is that kind of pretty girl with a degree of integrity, often curbed by her own indecisiveness, and needs a little extra push to find her self-worth, she is always on the rational side of the line, by contrast, Garr (also Oscar-nominated, but criminally lost to Lange in an unfair game), brings about an adorable and spontaneous adroitness as an excellent comedienne, her Sandy is the irrational type of gal often being exploited by men for her kindness and innocuousness, Garr pushes the limit in her well-timed fit of rage sprinkled with just-right-amount-of mockery, in a perfect world, Michael should have ended up with her. Bill Murray is knowingly not billed in the opening credit, but as Michael’s roomie, he has a medium-sized role to balance out Hoffman’s edginess with deadpan drollness and occasional wisecrack. Two veterans Gaynes and Durning, both manifest their caricatural segments at full throttle. All in all, it is just a brilliantly made comedy, TOOTSIE stands tall among director Pollock’s otherwise patchy filmography!